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Coping With the Loss of a Beloved Pet

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Love and careThere’s no debate. A great pet is a member of the family, and losing a family member is an incredibly difficult and painful thing to work through. The feelings of loss are powerful, but when welcomed and treated appropriately, they can be overcome in time. Here are some things we’ve learned about pet bereavement over the years.

1. Grief after the death of a pet is normal.

This is the first and most important thing you should know if you or your kids are struggling with the loss of a pet: your feelings of grief are completely normal. They should not be swept under the rug.

2. Some people struggle with finding the right words to say.

Though they might mean well, people tend to minimize feelings instead of validating them. In the case of pet loss, they say things like “Don’t worry. It’s just a dog.” This can make us think we shouldn’t feel what we’re feeling. Understand that many people have great intentions. Be patient as they search for words to give you.

If you’re the one doing the consoling, remember that less can be more in situations like these. Sometimes a heartfelt “I’m sorry, and I’m here for you.” is more than enough.

3. Kids look to their parents in these difficult moments.

As a parent, your kids are always watching you like hawks, and this is especially true when pain or vulnerability is involved. If you let your kids into the process, they can take monumental development leaps.

Talk to your kids about the death of your family pet. This might be an opportunity to have healthy, educational discussions about what death is, why it happens and what you believe happens after death.

Bottom line: kids are going to watch you and see how you act. If you’re hiding from your feelings of grief, they’ll learn to mask their emotions. But if you’re open and honest with them about your emotions, they’ll reciprocate that behavior.

4. If someone in your house is really struggling…

  • Counseling or support groups can help. At Stenzel Clinical, we see people for pet bereavement and walk with them as they heal.
  • It can be healing to make a memory book or collage of your pet.
  • A burial and memorial service can help bring closure and spark the sharing of favorite memories and moments with your pet.

The death of a beloved pet is a difficult thing to endure, but as long as you’re giving comfort, love and a listening ear to someone who’s struggling, you really can’t go wrong.